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To ride through mountains where my
Row on, row on!-The First may light
Row on, row on!-The Second is high
Row on, row on!-When the Whole is fled,
The song will be hushed, and the rapture dead;
To the toils of day, and the haunts of men,
336. THE DEFENCE OF POESY.
SIR P. SIDNEY. [A clever critic says, "One would think that to write a Defence of Poesy were something like writing an 'Apology for the Bible.'" The Editor of
'Half-Hours' has called attention to the circumstances that demanded this Defence. (William Shakspere, a Biography.') A little previous to 1580, two or three fanatical writers put forth a succession of the most violent attacks, not only upon the Stage, but against Music and Poetry in all its forms. When Sidney says, I think truly that, of all writers under the sun, the poet is the least liar," he was answering one Stephen Gosson, and other pamphleteers, who held that a fiction and a lie were the same. But Sidney's 'Defence' is a logical and elegant production that may be read with advantage at all times. The high-minded writer came, with his chivalrous spirit, to the rescue of ' divine' Poesy, who was trembling before the great dragon of fanaticism; and manfully did he chase the beast to its hiding-place. Sidney was a poet himself: his' Arcadia,' fantastical as it is, is full of beautiful pictures, such as that well-known one of "a shepherd boy piping, as though he should never be old." In the short life of this noble Englishman was crowded as much excellence and glory as might be distributed amongst a legion of ordinary men, and leave each something worth possessing. "He trod," says one of his biographers," from his cradle to his grave amid incense and flowers, and died in a dream of glory." He died in no dream-he died in the beauty and holiness of charity. Lord Brooke thus relates what occurred when Sidney fell at the battle of Zutphen, and was carried out of the field: "Being thirsty with excess of bleeding, he called for some drink, which was presently brought him; but, as he was putting the bottle to his mouth, he saw a poor soldier carried along, who had eaten his last at the same feast, ghastly casting up his eyes at the bottle, which Sir Philip perceiving, took it from his head before he drank, and delivered it to the poor man, with these words, Thy necessity is yet greater than mine." was born in 1554.]
Sidney died in 1586; he
Now, therein, of all sciences, I speak still of human, and, according to the human conceit, is our poet the monarch. For he doth not only show the way, but giveth so sweet a prospect into the way, as will entice any man to enter into it: nay, he doth, as if your journey should lie through a fair vineyard, at the very first, give you a cluster of grapes, that, full of that taste, you may long to pass farther. He beginneth not with obscure definitions, which must blur the margent with interpretations, and load the memory with doubtfulness; but he cometh to you with words set in delightful proportion, either accompanied with or prepared for the well-enchanting skill of music, and with a tale, forsooth; he cometh unto you, with a tale, which holdeth children from play and old men from the chimney-corner; and, pretending no more, doth intend the winning of the mind from wickedness to virtue; even as the child is often brought to take most wholesome things
by hiding them in such other as have a pleasant taste; which, if one should begin to tell them the nature of the aloes or rhubarbarum they should receive, would sooner take their physic at their ears than at their mouth; so is it in men, (most of which are childish in the best things, till they be cradled in their graves,) glad they will be to hear the tales of Hercules, Achilles, Cyrus, Eneas, and, hearing them, must needs hear the right description of wisdom, valor, and justice; which, if they had been barely (that is to say, philosophically) set out, they would swear they be brought to school again. That imitation whereof poetry is, hath the most conveniency to nature of all other: insomuch that, as Aristotle saith, "those things which in themselves are horrible, as cruel battles, unnatural monsters, are made, in poetical imitation, delightful." Truly, I have known men, that even with reading Amadis de Gaul, which, God knoweth, wanteth much of a perfect poesy, have found their hearts moved to the exercise of courtesy, liberality, and especially courage. Who readeth Eneas carrying old Anchises on his back, that wisheth not it were his fortune to perform so excellent an act? Whom doth not those words of Turnus move (the tale of Turnus having planted his image in the imagination)
Where the philosophers, (as they think) scorn to delight, so much they be content little to move, saving wrangling whether Virtus be the chief or the only good; whether the contemplative or the active life do excel: which Plato and Boetius well knew; and therefore made Mistress Philosophy very often borrow the masking raiment of Poesy. For even those hard-hearted evil men, who think virtue a school-name, and know no other good but indulgere genio, and therefore despise the austere admonitions of the philosopher, and feel not the inward reason they stand upon, yet will be content to be delighted, which is all the good fellow poet seems to promise; and so steal to see the form of goodness, which seen, they cannot but love, ere themselves be aware, as if they took a medicine of cherries.
* Virgilius.—Shall this land see him fly? Is it so wretched a thing to die?
Infinite proofs of the strange effects of this poetical invention might be alleged; only two shall serve, which are so often remembered, as, I think, all men know them. The one of Menenius Agrippa, who, when the whole people of Rome had resolutely divided themselves from the Senate, with apparent show of utter ruin, though he were, for that time, an excellent orator, came not among them upon trust, either of figurative speeches, or cunning insinuations, and much less with far-fetched maxims of philosophy, which, especially if they were Platonic, they must have learned geometry before they could have conceived: but, forsooth, he behaveth himself like a homely and familiar poet. He telleth them a tale, That there was a time when all the parts of the body made a mutinous conspiracy against the belly, which they thought devoured the fruits of each other's labor: they concluded they would let so unprofitable a spender starve. In the end, to be short (for the tale is notorious, and as notorious that it was a tale), with punishing the belly they plagued themselves. This, applied by him, wrought such effect in the people, as I never read that only words brought forth: but then, so sudden and so good an alteration, for, upon reasonable conditions, a perfect reconcilement ensued. The other is of Nathan the Prophet, who, when the holy David had so far forsaken God as to confirm adultery with murther, when he was to do the tenderest office of a friend, in laying his own shame before his eyes, being sent by God to call again so chosen a servant, how doth he it? but by telling of a man whose beloved lamb was ungratefully taken from his bosom. The application most divinely true, but the discourse itself feigned; which made David (I speak of the second and instrumental cause) as in a glass see his own filthiness, as that heavenly psalm of mercy well testifieth.*
By these, therefore, examples and reasons, I think it may be manifest, that the poet, with that same hand of delight, doth draw the mind more effectually than any other art doth. And so a conclusion, not unfitly, ensues, that as virtue is the most excellent resting-place for all worldly learning to make his end of, so poetry, being the most familiar to teach it, and most princely to move towards it, in the most excellent work, is the most ex
* Psalm li.
cellent workman. But I am content, not only to decipher him by his works, (although works in commendation and dispraise must ever hold a high authority,) but more narrowly will examine his parts; so that (as in a man) though all together may carry a presence full of majesty and beauty, perchance in some one defectuous piece we may find blemish.
Now in his parts, kinds, or species, as you list to term them, it is to be noted, that some poesies have coupled together two or three kinds, as the tragical and comical, whereupon is risen the tragi-comical; some, in the manner, have mingled prose and verse, as Sannazara and Boetius; some have mingled matters heroical and pastoral, but that cometh all to one in this question; for, if severed they be good, the conjunction cannot be hurtful: therefore, perchance, forgetting some, and leaving some as needless to be remembered, it shall not be amiss, in a word, to cite the special kinds, to see what faults may be found in the right use of them.
Is it, then, the Pastoral poem which is misliked? (for, perchance, where the hedge is lowest, they will soonest leap over) is the poor pipe disdained, which sometimes, out of Melibus's mouth, can show the misery of people under hard lords and ravening soldiers? And again, by Tityrus, what blessedness is derived to them that lie lowest, from the goodness of them that sit highest? Sometimes, under the pretty tales of wolves and sheep, can include the whole considerations of wrong doing and patience; sometimes show that contentions for trifles can get but a trifling victory; where, perchance, a man may see, that even Alexander and Darius, when they strove who should be cock of this world's dunghill, the benefit they got was, that the after livers may say,
"Hæc memini et victum frustra contendere Thyrsim;
Or is it the lamenting Elegiac, which, in a kind heart, would move rather pity than blame, who bewaileth, with the great philosopher Heraclitus, the weakness of mankind, and the wretchedness of the world; who, surely is to be praised, either for com
* Virgilius. These things I remember, and that Thyrsis vainly contended, and was conquered, and, after him, Corydon, Corydon who belongs to our times.